OIA Red Playoffs
The matchup: Mililani (8-1) vs. Kahuku (6-3)
Location/Time: Aloha Stadium, Thursday, 4:30 p.m.
Head-to-head (since 1973): Kahuku leads 10-0
Biggest margin of victory: Kahuku, 40-2, Sept. 30, 2000
Smallest margin of victory: Kahuku, 33-30, Sept. 11, 1981
Mililani’s offensive leadersUpdated: Nov. 25
Kahuku’s offensive leadersUpdated: Nov. 6
|Polikapo Liua Jr.||11||110||623||12|
|Polikapo Liua Jr.||11||11||183||1|
To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, right?
This specific Kahuku team might not necessarily be the best in 2013, but the Red Raiders have been the OIA’s best over the last decade. The two-time defending state champs have won eight of 10 OIA Red championships heading into Thursday night’s semifinal against the Trojans, who are a perfect 8-0 this season against OIA teams.
Of course, one of those two years Kahuku didn’t win the OIA title came in 2010, when it had to forfeit a semifinal win over Leilehua because it was caught using an ineligible player during the season. Mililani, which was supposed to play Kahuku for the championship after a semifinal win over Waianae, was awarded the OIA championship and seeded berth in the state tournament, only to lose to that same Seariders team in the semis.
Mililani is anxious to win another OIA championship, and this time, do it on the field. In order to do so, it must beat the Red Raiders for the first time in at least four decades. Since 1973, Kahuku has won all 10 meetings against Mililani, winning by an average of 22.4 points.
Kahuku had a chance to complete an undefeated regular season, but was outmatched in a 21-7 loss to Farrington three weeks ago. The return of running back Soli Afalava proved huge in a quarterfinal win over Waianae. Afalava had a season-high 157 yards to put some life back into the Kahuku running game.
Kahuku had gone four consecutive games without a 100-yard rusher until Afalava’s return last week. Before Afalava’s injury, Kahuku had at least one player go for 100 rushing yards in 19 of its last 24 games. (Thanks, Aofaga Wily!)
Star-Advertiser reporter Nick Abramo noted in a blog item on Kahuku’s defense that Afalava wasn’t the only huge factor in the Red Raiders’ 45-20 win over Waianae. Taliauli Vaifoou had two of Kahuku’s six sacks in the game and coach Reggie Torres moved offensive lineman Henry Tonga, who MaxPreps lists as 6-foot-2, 445 pounds, to defensive tackle to help bottle up the Seariders’ triple-option attack.
Might Tonga find himself in the same spot again? Mililani features dynamic sophomore running back Vavae Malepeai, who has gone over 100 rushing yards in six of the eight games he’s played in this season. Malepeai finished the regular season leading the OIA Red West with 133.6 rushing yards a game and had 154 and two touchdowns in a quarterfinal win over Leilehua. Quarterback McKenzie Milton is no slouch running the ball either. Milton was 10th in the OIA Red West with 219 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Mililani has held six of its nine opponents to 14 points or less while averaging 34.8 points per game on offense. Kahuku is giving up 23.9 points a game but that number drops to 18.9 against OIA teams.
Mililani’s pass rush is downright scary. Just ask Leilehua, which finished 0-for-11 on third-down conversions last Saturday. The best way to neutralize that pass rush is with a physical downhill rushing attack, which is what Kahuku is known for.
Mililani has had the more impressive season but in terms of matchups, Kahuku’s offense is best suited to counter the Trojans’ biggest strengths on defense. Kahuku’s defense, meanwhile, gave up 240 passing yards to Waianae’s Kekoa Kaluhiokalani, which was his second-highest total in 30 career starts. Moanalua’s Micah Kaneshiro threw for 258 against Kahuku and Saint Louis’ Ryder Kuhns torched the Red Raiders’ secondary for 370 yards back in August.
That’s not the game Mililani plays. The Trojans like to gash you with their up-tempo running attack. That might be tough against the Red Raiders. Milton beat out Robert Faleafine for the starting QB job and has topped 200 yards passing in a game three times this season, but he was held to 37 total yards on 5-for-11 passing on Saturday against Leilehua. He’ll need to be better than that against Kahuku.
Kahuku fans have wanted this game since 2010. Mililani fans have wanted this game forever. Can the Trojans finally beat the Red Raiders and secure a trip to the state tournament for the third time in four years, or will the Red Raiders play for a third consecutive OIA Red championship?
Luckily, we only have to wait until Thursday to find out.